Top 5 teams who had to qualify for the FIFA World Cup via play-offs
From the UEFA zone of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the likes of England, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Poland have booked their place in Russia next summer. Among high-profile names, Netherlands are on the brink of missing out on the World Cup as they have a Herculean task of defeating Sweden by 12 goals to end their group in second place.
However, Netherlands aren't the only big team who has a possibility of missing out on the World Cup as four-time champions Italy have to go through the play-offs to qualify for the tournament.
The intra and inter-confederation play-offs were first implemented in the FIFA World Cup qualification during the 1958 qualifiers and have been played regularly since the 1986 World Cup qualifiers. Over the years there have been instances when even the biggest teams had to go through the play-off stage to qualify for the World Cup and here are five such teams.
Honorable Mentions: Portugal (2010, 2014), Uruguay (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014)
#5. Spain- 1962 and 2006
After coming fourth at the 1950 World Cup, Spain failed to qualify for the following two editions in 1954 and 1958. During the 1962 World Cup qualifiers, Spain had to only play against Wales as the other teams in their group (Austria and Denmark) withdrew. Spain won against Wales 3-2 on aggregate and they would now play Morocco in the UEFA/CAF inter-confederation play-off.
An 80th minute goal from Luis del Sol won Spain the first leg at Casablanca. The return leg at Madrid was a very thrilling encounter as the Spaniards won 3-2 thanks to goals from Marcelino, Alfredo di Stefano, and Enrique Collar. Spain this won 4-2 on aggregate and qualified for only their 3rd World Cup.
The second time Spain would have to play in the play-offs would be more than four decades later during the 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Spain were heavy favorites to win their group and went throughout the first qualifying round unbeaten but Serbia and Montenegro registered a win more than them and they were through.
In the play-offs, Spain were up against Slovakia. The first leg at Madrid ended in a 5-1 victory for Spain thanks to a hat-trick by Luis Garcia and a goal each by Fernando Torres and Fernando Morientes. In the return leg at Bratislava, Spain drew 1-1 thanks to David Villa’s equalizer which cancelled out Slovakia’s opening goal by Filip Holosko. Spain thus managed to make it to Germany for the World Cup 2006.